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The biggest special election since Dobbs: What to watch on Tuesday’s primary day

Some of the biggest elections of the summer are happening Tuesday, including a closely watched New York special election that’s also an opportunity to gauge the nation’s political environment ahead of November.

Voters in a swingy upstate New York district are choosing a candidate to serve a few months succeeding Antonio Delgado, a Democrat who stepped down from his House seat in Hudson Valley to become the state’s lieutenant governor. But the race between Democrat Pat Ryan and Republican Marc Molinaro will also be a key test of the political mood following the Supreme Court’s decision to throw out nationwide protection for access to abortion.

And unlike the other handful of special elections in the post-Roe v. Wade era — where Democrats ran ahead of their 2020 results — both parties have been competing in New York. Both the final victor, and each candidate’s messaging, will help each party fine-tune their November playbooks.

New York is also holding its court-delayed House primaries as well, where a swell of primaries — including one that pits longtime Democratic Reps. Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney against one another — will change the face of the delegation. The parties will also nominate candidates for as many as a half-dozen potential House battlegrounds.

In Florida, meanwhile, Democrats will pick their nominee to face GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis in November, along with a slew of safe-seat House primaries in the state.

Here’s what to watch on Tuesday:

Special election watch in New York

The special election in New York’s 19th District will be the last special election before November, pitting Ryan and Molinaro up against one another in a contest that has seen millions of dollars in spending from both parties.

Both candidates in this swing seat have centered their campaigns on topics that will be the center of their parties’ messaging in the fall: abortion, in the case of Ryan, and inflation for Molinaro. And the district is hotly competitive: President Joe Biden carried it by fewer than 2 points in 2020, after now-former President Donald Trump won it by about 7 points in 2016.

Ryan has eagerly played up the national implications of the race, saying in a recent interview with POLITICO that “a win here would validate that the ground is shifting.” But Molinaro has sought to downplay any larger stakes outside the confines of the district, saying he was focused on the Hudson Valley.

It could take some time to call the race if the results are close. Eleven different county boards of elections will need to post their results, including in places like Rensselaer — which makes up 10 percent of the district’s electorate and has been known to wait until Wednesday to start posting its results.

And any victory in the district will be short-lived. Molinaro and Ryan are both running again for November — Molinaro having already locked up the GOP nod in the newly redrawn 19th District, while Ryan is running in a Democratic primary on Tuesday in the adjacent new 18th District.

The fight to face DeSantis

Florida Democrats head into the primary with one key question: Who will be the best nominee to take on incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis heading into November?

DeSantis, who has become a conservative celebrity and potential 2024 presidential contender, has a massive fundraising edge and helped Republicans surpass Democrats in voter registration late last year.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, in the wake of the reversal of Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade this summer, has tried to make abortion rights a central part of her campaign pitch to Democrats. She has assailed rival Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist — who was elected governor as a Republican back in 2006 — for his past statements that he was “pro-life” and for appointing conservative judges to the courts, including the Florida supreme court. That court could uphold Florida’s recently approved ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy — with no exceptions for rape or incest.

Crist, who initially tried to ignore Fried early in the primary campaign, pushed back, pointing to his veto of an abortion bill back in 2010 and his steady voting record in favor of abortion rights while serving as a Democrat in Congress. He has lashed out in television ads at Fried by pointing out that, while she was a lobbyist, she donated and helped campaign for Republicans.

It’s not clear if Fried’s skeptical take about Crist’s Republican past will win out, although her supporters have insisted that late-deciding voters are backing her. But ahead of Tuesday, Crist outraised Fried and was able to win over many Democratic officials to back his campaign — which could be a key factor in a race that may not garner more than 25 percent turnout.

A new New York delegation

New York’s congressional delegation could look very different next year, with a handful of retirements already set, and Tuesday’s primaries potentially knocking multiple other members out of the delegation.

One member is guaranteed to lose in Manhattan, where a pair of longtime Democratic incumbents are squaring off. The race between Maloney and Nadler has been incredibly contentious, with the two trading barbs about their service in Congress and Maloney floating rumors about whether Nadler was going to finish out his term. An X-factor in the race: Suraj Patel, who is angling for an upset Tuesday after running unsuccessful primary campaigns against Maloney in 2018 and 2020.

Elsewhere in the borough, a busload of candidates are competing for the open 10th District. The race includes Rep. Mondaire Jones, who skipped out on running for much of his old territory after DCCC chair Sean Patrick Maloney announced a run there; former federal prosecutor Dan Goldman; state Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou; former Rep. Liz Holtzman, who last served in Congress in 1980; city Councilwoman Carlina Rivera and others. Goldman is seen as a potential favorite in the race, in part due to the split field of progressives.

Heading upstate, Maloney — who is running in a district just north of the city after abandoning his old turf after redistricting — did not escape unscathed. He too is facing a primary challenge from state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, but the party committee boss is the favorite.

There are also three openings on Long Island, after Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice retired and two others aspired for higher office. (Republican Lee Zeldin is the GOP gubernatorial nominee, while Democrat Tom Suozzi was blown out in a primary challenge to Gov. Kathy Hochul.) Nick LaLota, a Republican county legislative staffer, is the favorite to succeed Zeldin in the 1st District, and there are competitive primaries to replace Suozzi in the 3rd and Rice in the 4th.

The districts could be competitive come November, given the political environment. The parties are also finalizing matchups in a number of potential swing districts Tuesday night, in a state that could be the center of the battle for control of the House.

And upstate, the controversial and bombastic Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino is facing off against state GOP chair Nick Langworthy for a safe red seat in Western New York.

Republicans push their advantage in Florida

The Florida primary will be the first one under a congressional map muscled through by DeSantis earlier this year. Florida picked up a 28th congressional seat due to population growth, and Republicans are sure to grow their current 16-11 edge after the governor vetoed the GOP-controlled legislature’s initial map that would have increased that margin by one seat.

Instead, DeSantis submitted his own map that is projected to let Republicans pick up as many as four seats this fall. The new map created new districts and dismantled or seriously altered those held by Democrats — triggering crowded and brutal GOP primaries in three seats that are likely to be picked up by Republicans.

The race for the Pinellas County congressional district now held by Crist includes Air Force veteran Anna Paulina Luna, who has already been endorsed by former President Donald Trump and Rep. Matt Gaetz (F-Fla.). But despite Luna’s frontrunner status, she has come under withering attack by primary rival Kevin Hayslett, who has picked up support from top Pinellas County Republicans as well as former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The Central Florida district being vacated by retiring Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy is also likely to flip in November after redistricting. The GOP primary has been a brawl, pitting conservative state Rep. Anthony Sabatini against other candidates, including defense contractor Cory Mills and former Navy SEAL sniper Brady Duke.

The newly created 15th District east of Tampa has also attracted a large Republican crowd, including former Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, state Sen. Kelli Stagel and state Rep. Jackie Toledo. This race has also turned sharply negative, with a super PAC assailing Lee for refusing to back a forensic audit of the 2020 election even though Trump won Florida handily.

There are a handful of notable Democratic primaries, but the one with the most intrigue surrounds the central Florida district now held by Rep. Val Demings, who is challenging Sen. Marco Rubio.

Republican legislators reshaped the district and reduced the number of Black voters living in it, although the seat remains comfortably Democratic. Maxwell Alejandro Frost, a progressive Gen Z activist, has outraised his opponents and picked up notable endorsements, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. But also in the race are state Sen. Randolph Bracy as well as former Reps. Corrine Brown and Alan Grayson.

In Miami, state Sen. Annette Taddeo is running against Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell in the Democratic primary for Florida’s 27th District. The winner will take on incumbent GOP Rep. María Elvira Salazar in one of the only contests that Democrats have identified in Florida as a pickup opportunity.

Runoffs in Oklahoma

Tuesday also brings primary runoffs in Oklahoma, where Republican Rep. Markwayne Mullin and former state House speaker T.W. Shannon are fighting to finish out the remainder of retiring GOP Sen. Jim Inhofe’s term.

Mullin is the favorite heading into Tuesday, having well outpaced Shannon and the rest of the crowded field in the state’s late-June primary. Mullin has significantly outraised Shannon and scored the endorsement of Trump.

The winner of Tuesday’s GOP runoff will be the frontrunner in November’s general election against former Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn.

Mullin’s likely soon-to-be-former district also features a GOP runoff between state Rep. Avery Frix and former state Sen. Josh Brecheen. The winner of that race will be a congressman-in-waiting in the deep red district.

Anna Gronewold contributed to this report.

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